28 Beautiful Tattoos Inspired by Invisible Illness


When you’re fighting an invisible battle, sometimes a visual representation can help encourage you to keep going and remind you of what you’ve already overcome. For many of those battling health conditions, tattoos are a beautiful way to make an invisible illness visible. They can help raise awareness, start conversations, or even allow people to “reclaim control” over their bodies by expressing their struggles on their own terms.

We asked our Mighty community to share photos of tattoos that were inspired by invisible illness. These tattoos are not only stunning, but have powerful stories of strength and perseverance behind them.

Here’s what the community shared with us:

 

1. “A Vegvísir (Icelandic ‘sign post’ or ‘wayfinder’) is an Icelandic magical stave intended to help the bearer find their way through rough weather. My health problems never seem to be clear cut, and being so young I’ve traversed a lot of my health problems on my own. Hopefully this will help me in the future and protect me on whatever path I end up on. I couldn’t decide on any one ribbon; too many health issues! I’m also autistic so the rainbow is used frequently for those on the spectrum as well.”

woman with colorful tattoo on her arm

2. “At school we learned about the Japanese legend that says if you make 1000 paper cranes the gods will grant you one wish and often that wish is to recover from illness. The paper crane is there to remind me to be hopeful no matter how long this journey is. The words ‘stay strong’ remind me to keep fighting [and] never give up, even during the darkest times.”

woman with tattoo that says 'stay strong' on her arm with an iv

3. “The molecular structure for serotonin and dopamine, the ‘happy’ chemicals that my body is unable to produce. To me it’s sort of poetic that I’ll now always have them with me.”

woman with tattoo of dopamine on her shoulder

4. “This is to symbolize the balance I need in life to manage my condition. Everything is balance, not too much [and] not too little exercise and activity to keep me in shape but not in too much pain. My mental state has to be in the same place as my physical or one will be worse than the other.”

man with yin and yang symbols tattooed on his arms

5. “My big ol’ medic alert tattoo. On my 15th surgery an anesthesiologist about killed me by pushing an amide in my line. No one ever looked at my medic alert bracelet and I drove a lot between states through mountains. In case I crashed, someone can see my ailments. Turns out my tattoo has saved my life three times. So many strangers and medical professionals have taken photos of it. It’s the best thing I designed and had tattooed on myself.”

woman with medical alert tattoo

6. “It says ‘persevere’ in Hindi.”

tattoo on a woman's wrist that says 'persevere' in hindi

7. “Ehlers-Danlos ribbon fallen apart, just like the collagen does in my sons’ bodies, stars for each of them with their favorite colors. It’s been a great conversation piece that allows me to spread awareness.”

woman with awareness tattoos on her arm

8. “My self-care reminder to ‘save a spoon for myself.’ It helps me to learn to say no and take care of me.”

woman with a spoon tattoo on her finger

9. “I got this tattoo that represents Valhalla, a Viking’s final journey to be with the gods after death. I have significant loss of use of that arm and thought it would be a good representation. It was a time in my life I was trying to learn to deal with the loss of ability to do so many of the things I used to do. I have a Norwegian heritage, thus the Vikings. No one knows the real story behind it – they just think it’s cool.”

man with valhalla tattoo on his arm

10. “Lyrics from Sweeney Todd. My chronic pain stopped me from being a dancer. The song is about caged birds who still manage to sing. For me the quote symbolizes that even though my health prevented from doing what I was meant/born to do and stole so much of my life, I can still find a way to be happy.”

woman with tattoo on her wrist that says 'if I cannot fly, let me sing'

11. “On one shoulder I have ‘With Pain Comes Strength’ with two lilies (one purple for lupus, the other teal for my grandma and best friend’s mom who both passed of ovarian cancer) and on the other shoulder I have ‘Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over it became a butterfly’ with five butterflies in different colors for different causes/diseases I have and my family has (dark blue for my nephew for child abuse, pink for my aunt for breast cancer, purple for me for lupus and Alzheimer’s for my hubby’s grandpa, teal again for ovarian cancer, and purple and blue for my mom and friend with rheumatoid arthritis).”

woman with butterfly tattoos on her shoulder

12. “So I can remember that I need to carry on and to remind me that my family really does care.”

man with tattoo on his arm that says 'my story is not finished'

13. “My tattoo is on my collarbone, written backwards so I can read it in the mirror. It has a bit of purple in it for my Crohn’s. When I’m feeling awful I can look in the mirror and it’s a reminder to keep going.”

woman with stay strong tattoo on her collarbone

14. “I have two outlined roses on my left shoulder. I have been chronically ill my entire life and I don’t know what it’s like to be healthy. When I was little and having surgeries, my big brothers would bring me roses and I always loved them. The older I got the more important they became to me. No matter what condition a rose is in people cherish them. I want to be like a rose – no matter how wilted I become, no matter how many thorns I have, I hope people look at me the way they look at roses. No matter what I’m going through or how down I get because of my illnesses, I remind myself daily to look at myself the way I look at roses.”

woman with rose outlines tattooed on her shoulder

 

15. “I have my warrior tattoo right where they always put my IV.”

woman's warrior tattoo above her IV location in her arm

16. “Just got this done today…lupus, gastroparesis, anklyosing spondylitis… and might be facing stomach removal soon. It stands for overcoming a struggle in your life with peace in your heart.”

woman with tattoo on her arm

17. “My purple butterfly tattoo in honor of learning to live my life with my Crohn’s diagnosis.”

woman with purple butterfly on her foot

18. “My twister tattoo represents a life without a vestibular system. I got the tornado coming out of my PICC line scar – which is my daily reminder of the antibiotic that simultaneously saved my life, but also stripped my world of a lot of normalcy. Though the world bounces for me now, I always have a reminder that I am force of nature…and can get through just about anything. Plus, it’s a great conversation starter about the reality of life with chronic illness.”

woman with a tornado tattoo on her arm

19. “‘Sir Kidney’ for my two transplants in 1983 and 2003.”

man with tattoo on his side representing his kidney failure

20. “I got the year I was diagnosed (’06) out of two diabetes symbols. It just happened to work out super well that way. I got it done on my 10-year ‘diaversary.’ 12-26-16. I love this tattoo and what is represents for me. I pray I get to add ‘survivor’ underneath it someday.”

woman with diabetes tattoos on her stomach

21. “This is a reminder to me that no matter what, there is always hope. Even on the worst days of my pain from fibromyalgia, arthritis in all my joints, total right hip replacement, spinal bone spurs (D.I.S.H.), myofascial pain, pelvic adhesions/scar tissue/trigger points, trigeminal neuralgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, gastroperisis, hypothyroidism, diabetes type 2 (on insulin) and bipolar disorder, there is always the hope of a new treatment or drug or surgery or research program or… I can’t give up, ever. I believe that one day, things will get better. And so I have this tattoo on my inner left forearm to constantly remind me to never give up, to keep going, one minute at a time, one day at a time, whatever it takes.”

tattoo on woman's arm that says 'there is always hope'

22. “Life with sickle cell: ‘So Much Pain.'”

man with tattoo on his chest saying 'so much pain'

23. “I have ankylosing spondylitis…this is an ankylosaur. It’s there for the days I don’t feel very tough, because of the pain, or a meltdown, and to remind me, through the fatigue, to embrace my inner dinosaur and fight through it all.”

woman with dinosaur tattoo on her shoulder

24. “I got this two and a half years after I was diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure. It’s my first and probably only tattoo. My tattoo serves as my constant reminder that I will not let kidney disease sink me. If you look closely, the ‘o’ in ‘to’ is actually a kidney! And I tied it all together with an anchor over the ‘i,’ which further symbolizes hope in receiving a kidney transplant!”

woman with tattoo on her arm that says 'refuse to sink'

25. “My custom dreamcatcher…the wolf for lupus and compass for navigating my new path through life.”

woman's tattoo of a dreamcatcher

26. “I have Crohn’s disease. This tattoo is on my leg and it represents the cut and split in my life where my disease hurts me. But then the purple ribbon (used for Crohn’s disease awareness) is sewing the cut back together again. I am not defeated by my illness. I have Crohn’s, Crohn’s does not have me.”

woman with tattoo on her leg

27. “The tree of life with support ribbons hanging from it. My life has been forever changed by several autoimmune diseases and other chronic illnesses. Each ribbons represents either something I am dealing with or someone I love is dealing with.”

woman's tattoo of a tree of life with autoimmune disease awareness ribbons

28. “[I’m a] spoonie.”

woman with spoon tattoo on her arm

28 Beautiful Tattoos Inspired by Invisible Illness

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